June recap

June was a month of ups and also many downs. I went to London for a week and really enjoyed being on a trip after two long covid years (and I bought a few books in the Waterstones, and with a few I mean a lot 😅). But there was also some bad news this month. So, I did read but not as much as I hoped.

Read(ing)

I managed to finish 4 books and I’m in the middle of two more. Quite a good start of my 20 books of summer challenge. As ‘Lord John and the hand of devils’ was almost as a whole finished in May, I don’t count it for my list. At the moment I’m at 3/20 after one month out of three. Still some work to do :).

I’m slowly getting through Cloud cuckoo land. It’s not the kind of book that I normally read, but I’m very curious to see how all the layers of the story will unfold. The heretic wind is a fast read about the life of Mary Tudor. I didn’t like it at first, but I’m enjoying more now that I’m in the second half of the book.

Number of pages read: 1.651 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: The house with the golden door
Centuries visited: 1st century, 13th century, 14th century, 16th century, 18th century and 20th century
Countries visited: England, Italy, France and Greece (Constantinople)
Currently reading: The heretic wind and cloud cuckoo land
Next up: No idea yet 🙂 But I have the ’20 books of summer’ list to guide me

Reviewed

Added to my TBR

  • Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
  • The master of Measham Hall, this book was in every bookshop in London on display. I didn’t buy it, but it seems interesting
  • I still need to try Damian Dibben’s Tomorrow, but his newest book ‘The colour storm‘ seems even more my cup of tea.

How is your summer reading going?

The house with the golden door by Elodie Harper

Amara is now a freed concubine of Rufus and bears the name of Pliny the Elder. But for this to achieve she had to leave her old friends from the Wolf’s Nest behind. At night she still has nightmares about her pimp Felix. During the day she tries to make sure that Rufus doesn’t get tired of her. Because if she loses her patron, the future may yet look very gloom.

This is the second book in a trilogy set in Pompeii and focusing on the hard lives of women. The house with the golden door is as strong as the first part The wolf den, which is not always easy for an author. I really recommend to read ‘The wolf den’ first as the plot builds on the events and relationships from that book.

Amara is a strong woman facing difficult choices. Her relationship with Felix is complex and at times I could not always understand it. But emotions are not always rational. You can see this in the character of Victoria. Britannica’s character development is great and I also liked Julia and Drusilla, who have become Amara’s new friends.

I’m very curious to see how this story will end. We are close to the known disaster so I suspect the third book will build to a climax. This is an interesting series that can attract a wide audience. And those covers are beautiful.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is book 2/20 for 20 books of summer.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you already started this series?

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Alice Tanner discovers a cave with two skeletons inside during excavations in Southern France. As she enters the cave, strange ‘memories’ come flooding back to her. In 13th century Carcasonne, the French are on the verge of a holy crusade against the Cathars. In fear that the city will fall, Alais Du Pelletier receives from her father a ring with a labyrinth on it and a book that carries an ancient secret.

I really enjoyed the books Kate Mosse wrote about the Huguenots (The burning chambers and the city of tears), so I had to read her earlier work. I’ve avoided this book for a long time because it’s about the Holy Grail and I detest that kind of Da-Vinci Code stories.

For that reason, ‘Labyrinth‘ won’t become my favourite of Mosse’s books. The historical perspective is well developed with a focus on the many atrocities the Cathars suffered by the hands of fellow countryman. Alais is brave and tries to take care about the people around her. Her sister Oriane, however, aims for power and wealth. She loathes her sister because she’s her father favourite. The two sisters find themselves at opposing sides and Alais will have to search for a clever way to escape Oriane’s wrath.

The contemporary perspective is set up more like a thriller with people being murdered by secret societies. Alice is left with little clues as to what is going on and there are so many characters and subplots in the 2005 storyline that I was as lost as her at times.

In general, there are a few loose ends and there’s a big part of the story that’s just told between characters instead of being ‘lived’. Labyrinth proved a fast read with some great characters, but with a plot that wasn’t my cup of tea. I would have preferred a historical story about the Cathars, instead of a grail quest with far-fetched theories. If you enjoyed Dan Brown, then you’ll love it, because it’s better ;).

This is book 1/20 for 20 books of summer.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Kate Mosse? Do you enjoy books about the Grail quest?

Heresy by S.J. Parris

As a teenager Giordano Bruno has to leave his Italian convent because he reads forbidden books and believes that the earth revolves around the sun. He eventually ends up at the English court of the protestant queen Elizabeth I. One day he is sent by spymaster Francis Walsingham to Oxford University in search for hidden Catholics who might be plotting an attack on the queen. Bruno himself is secretly looking for a certain forbidden book that might be hidden in the Oxford library. But then the university is rocked by some horrific murders. And Bruno finds himself charged with the murder investigation.

Heresy is the first book in a historical mystery series around the character of Giordano Bruno. We meet Bruno when he has to leave his monastery because he was reading Erasmus on the toilet. The Inquisition is looking for him and after years of wandering around he ends up in England. There he meets his old friend Philip Sidney, a cousin of Robert Dudley and friend of Francis Walsingham. Although still a Catholic, Bruno receives much praise as a philosopher and is thus sent to Oxford to debate the universe.

Secretly, Sidney and Bruno are also looking for hidden Catholics and Bruno himself hopes to discover a particular book in the library. On his first evening, he meets Rector Underhill and his lovely daughter Sophia, but when one of the doctors is mauled by a wild dog during the night, the university turns out to be hiding a lot of secrets.

In many ways, this book is reminiscent of the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. Like Shardlake, Bruno is a man between two religions and he ends up in a closed community to solve a series of murders, just like Matthew in the first Shardlake book ‘Dissolution’. But the comparison stops there, because Parris has her own style. Maybe all a bit less sublime than Sansom, but she knows how to build a good story. I like that the book takes its time to set to story and when you finally end up in the middle of the action, the book is finished in no time.

Heresy contains many different characters who are all neither good nor bad. You are constantly put on the wrong track and have no idea who is and who isn’t a secret Catholic. Only the story of Sophia is too cliché for my taste. Certainly not a perfect book, but a good start to this series set in the later Tudor era under Elizabeth I.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read this series yet?

The lost apothecary by Sarah Penner

Caroline travels on her own to London where she was supposed to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary with her cheating husband James. She unexpectedly ends up mudlarking in the Thames and finds an old vial, used to contain a medicine, with a picture of a bear on it. She sets out to investigate this further and discovers an 18th century apothecary who mixed poisons to help other women.

The Lost Apothecary is a historical novel with two timelines set in London, one in the 21st century and one in the 18th century. We meet Nella, an apothecary who is asked by 12-year-old Eliza to prepare a poison for her master. Nella has a backstory of loss and revenge and now helps other women free themselves of toxic men. Two centuries later, Caroline wanders alone through the streets of London after discovering her husband’s betrayal. Her love for history and research awakens when she finds an old vial and starts looking for it story.

This book immediately reminded me of Nicola Cornick’s books. The two perspectives are lightly worked out and only partly connected and there’s a small magical backstory. An entertaining read, but not exactly one that will stay with me for long. Perfect for a long summer evening.

Towards the end, the story becomes a little implausible. And yet that did not bother me. Penner writes well, knowing that this is her debut novel. And I was drawn into the lives of Nella, Eliza and Charlotte. Of course, I slightly preferred the historical perspective, also because there was more tension in the story. Nella and Eliza must fight to keep their apothecary with all of its poisons secret.

I definitely enjoyed the book. If you’re expecting a little more depth, than you better skip this one. I’m curious to see what Sarah Penner will write next.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What’s your favourite book set in London?

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

As daughters of Minos, king of Crete, Ariadne and Phaedra watch 14 Athenian children being sacrificed to their half-brother the Minotaur every year. When the Athenian prince Theseus volunteers to be a sacrifice and attemps to kill the monster, Ariadne immediately falls for his good looks and heroic stories. She promises him her help and in return asks Theseus to take her away from her father’s wrath.

Jennifer Saint made her debut with this story about Ariadne. I have read Elektra before and enjoyed the story, especially because of the very human Helen, so I decided to try this one out as well. A subject I know a lot less about than the Trojan War.

Ariadne opens with the more or less well-known story of Theseus and the minotaur. But what happens afterwards to Ariadne, Phaedra and Theseus is less well known. We follow Ariadne on Naxos and her meeting with Dionysus, while we also reads Phaedra’s story in Crete, after the disappearance of her sister. In addition to the stories of the main characters, many other mythological characters are present: Daedalus and Icarus, Medusa and Perseus, Pasiphae, Hippolythus and even Medea.

With Ariadne, Saint presents a credible, somewhat naive main character with whom you quickly sympathize. Her sister Phaedra is much more lively and their mutual sisterly relationship is beautifully developed.

The story has a clear feminist angle. The focus is on how women are punished by the gods through the actions of men. Women are the playthings of heroes who take all the credit. You meet a Theseus who can’t really be called sympathetic. The story also explores the rites of Dionysus and his followers the maenads. It doesn’t exclude the hardships that women who ran away to Naxos had to face at home.

I enjoyed this book very much and think it’s certainly as good as Elektra. Both books have something special and it’s hard for me to point out a clear favourite. In terms of writing style and pacing I still prefer Miller and Haynes, but Saint really belongs in this list. I wonder which myth she will explore in her next book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Jennifer Saint so far?

May recap

Hi all,

Time for another monthly update!

Read(ing)

I managed to finish another 4 books this month, although Ariadne was almost as a whole read during April. It took some time for me to finish ‘I, Eliza Hamilton’, as it was a slow paced book that left me a bit disappointed. I started The lost apothecary and Heresy, which I both finished in no time and enjoyed a lot! I’m also in the middle of one of the books in the lord John Grey series of Diana Gabaldon.

Number of pages read: 1.525 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: Ariadne
Centuries visited: B.C., 16th century, 18th century and 21st century
Countries visited: England, Greece and America
Currently reading: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
Next up: Any of my 20 books of summer list

Reviewed

Blogged

Added to my TBR

How was your month?

I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott

Eliza Schuyler meets young Alexander Hamilton at a soldier’s ball in the early days of the American Revolution. Hamilton is an immigrant without family and means, but he has given himself a name as the aide-de-champs of General Washington. Eliza and Alexander fall in love instantly and get married in the middle of the war. Her friends and sister Angelica immediately warn her about her husband’s ambition, but Eliza is not looking for a dull life.

I usually don’t read historical fiction set in America but I was really looking forward to reading this in the hope of learning more about Eliza after seeing the musical Hamilton. Yes, the musical did this to me. And I’m not ashamed. Fiction, either as a novel, a play or a movie can introduce us to characters and events that would otherwise remain unknown.

Having finished ‘I, Eliza Hamilton‘, I must admit that I’m a bit disappointed. In this book Eliza is so head over heels in love with Hamilton that the whole novel, and it is quite a daunting book, is an anthology about her husband’s achievements and gentle nature.

Eliza either doesn’t see his faults or sweeps them under the carpet. She immediately develops a grudge against his political opponents and eagerly awaits his return every time he’s away from home. I had hoped for a book about the woman Eliza and her view of things, but I got a kind of retelling of the musical. When also the famous affair was soon forgotten in Eliza’s mind (all one big plot to ruin Hamilton politically), my resentment towards their perfect love match grew.

Scott writes quite well, but doesn’t know the principle of show don’t tell. There’s a big focus on politics and their relationship, leaving little room for side characters. Angelica is well developed, but Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Burr… they all remain in the background.

The historical note is sublime and the best thing about the book. Scott clearly did her research and I appreciate that. She just has a different vision of writing historical fiction from a woman’s point of view. Too bad, I hesitate to read another one of her books about a woman I know less about.

Have you read anything by Scott or about the American revolution?

20 books of summer 2022: my list

I’ve been looking forward a lot to Cathy’s announcement of 20 books of summer. Not only because summer is my favourite season and reading while trying not to spill my sun cream, or even better ice cream, on my book is one of my happy places. This is just such a nice challenge in which a lot of other book bloggers are taking part and encourage each other.

Have you never heard of 20 books of summer before? Well, the good thing is that there are almost no rules 😅. The concept is to compile a list of 10, 15 or 20 books. And then read and review these books before the 1st of September.

All the fun is off course in creating the list and in not sticking to it 😛. But well, I created my list at the beginning of May and decided to list 20 books. And then aim to read at least 10 of them. Last year I finished 14 books during summer, which is A LOT. Mainly because I didn’t go on holiday in 2021 and thus spent a lot of my free time to reading. This year, I know I won’t have the same amount of time, so I’ve set the bar a lot lower for myself. 10 books will do.

This is my full list of books, in a random order.

  • Mrs England by Stacey Halls (Kindle copy)
  • Cloud cuckoo land by Anthony Doerr (physical copy)
  • Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (library)
  • The price of blood by Patricia Bracewell (Kindle copy)
  • City of masks by S.D. Sykes (Kindle copy)
  • And then there were none by Agatha Christie (for the classics club, physical copy)
  • The house with the golden door by Elodie Harper (Netgalley ARC)
  • The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (library)
  • Heartstone by S.J. Sansom (library)
  • The heretic wind by Judith Arnopp (Kindle copy)
  • The honey and the sting by Elizabeth Fremantle (physical copy)
  • The devil and the dark water by Stuart Turton (library)
  • Anne Boleyn, a king’s obsession by Alison Weir (library)
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (for the classics club, Kindle copy)
  • The puritan princess by Miranda Mallins (Kindle copy)
  • The royal secret by Andrew Taylor (library)
  • A column of fire by Ken Follett (physical copy)
  • Stone blind by Nathalie Haynes (Netgalley ARC)
  • The reindeer hunters by Lars Mytting (library)
  • Circe by Madeline Miller (physical copy)

I’m curious to see where this challenge will end for me. Bring on the summer.

Have you made your list yet? With which book do I need to start my challenge?

Divided Souls by Toby Clemens

In this third book, we meet Thomas and Catherine five years after the events of the second novel. They live in peace and harmony at Marton Hall with their son Rufus and friends Jack and John Stump. But the peace will not hold for long. The Duke of Warwick turns against Edward IV and is looking for the secret of which Thomas and Catherine have proof. And he sends none other than Edmund Riven, their arch-enemy, on a quest to find it.

1469 is a strange year in the Wars of the Roses. The mysterious figure Robin of Redesdale fights against the king and it is said he has the support of the earl of Warwick. There are a number of battles in which some key figures, such as the earl of Pembroke, are eliminated. Warwick and the king quarrel, but do not meet. And at the end of the year the realm is strangely enough at peace again.

That must have been hard to understand for the common man, who is again dragged into a conflict that is not his. It’s the strength of this series. No focus on the big earls, kings and queens, but on the commoners who are trying to survive in troubled times.

And my God, Thomas and Catherine get themselves once again in trouble. A few of the same tropes are brought out and the book is, of course, somewhat predictable. But I liked it better than the second part. The events lead to a thrilling conclusion inside a tower of Middleham castle.

Divided souls‘ is a nice read and gives a different perspective on history. This is not the best series I will ever read, but I am looking forward to the fourth part to find out how it ends with Thomas, Catherine, Rufus and all those Johns.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read this series? What book are you currently reading?